Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kids lined up shoulder-to-shoulder to create stem cells

Kids made embryonic stem cells out of Play Doh at the Bay Area Science Festival.
It was fun waking up yesterday morning to the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle "Science fair hits it out of the park." It was a bit of an obvious headline because on Sunday 21,000 people had come to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, for the last event of the 10-day Bay Area Science Festival. CIRM was one of more than 170 organizations to provide hands-on science opportunities for kids and their parents at the event.

We took an activity from our five-module online high school curriculum (the full curriculum is here) and adapted it for the younger audience at the science festival. We had them use Play Doh to walk through the first five days of development and build a blastocyst where we could show them how to harvest stem cells using a turkey baster instead of a pipette. Depending on the age of the child, a few steps and a few big words were left out. But all ages got it when we told them we liked stem cells because they could help repair daddy (or mommy depending on who was standing behind them) if he was broken.

A group from the UC Berkeley Student Stem Cell Society ably kept the kids entertained while I and my colleagues from CIRM talked to the parents about CIRM results to date. They were uniformly excited about the 44 projects that are in various stages of working toward therapies for 26 diseases (that list of projects and information about their status is available on our web site).

Having a very well worn personal soap box about science literacy, it was thrilling to see so many families out, and seeing them getting into understanding the science at each of the stations. Kishore Hari, one of the festival organizers from UCSF, said the same thing to the Chronicle's David Perlman:
"Kids and their grownups too are spending real time at all the exhibits, and they are really working the experiments. I can see a real hunger for science all around me and it is uplifting"
In full disclosure, Dave Perlman was a mentor of mine when I first started as a science writer, as he was to most of my generation of science writers. I just wish American media outlets had room for more like him, we would be a bit further down the road to science literacy.


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